My Experience: Tears, Teamwork and Technology at the Child Development Centre

Lucy Fleetwood

Lucy Fleetwood

My name is Lucy and I started working for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust on Wednesday 5 February 2020. My new job was Paediatric Nurse Specialist at the Child Development Centre (CDC), working within the Neurodevelopmental Team. Six weeks after I started, Covid-19 struck, and I would like to share my experiences of how my fantastic team has supported each other, the children and young people under our care and our colleagues in the wider acute setting during this challenging time.

The first few weeks in my new job were a bit of a whirlwind. The role was completely different to anything I had been used to, but my line manager ensured that I had a comprehensive induction period, which really helped me settle in. At this point, Coronavirus was something distant, happening elsewhere in the world. Watching the headlines, and hearing the terrible stories of isolation and death in China, I remember feeling safe in the knowledge that would never happen in this country, would it?

How bad can it be? It’s just the flu, right?

Fast forward a few weeks later, and the virus had swept through Europe, edging ever closer to our little island. We were sadly learning that no country was immune to Covid-19. Then it happened. The first cases started to infect the UK and the threat became real. The country and the NHS were plunged into uncertainty.

The week lockdown began, panic spread throughout the country and chaos descended upon the CDC. Things were moving fast, advice was changing every day, and we were all feeling apprehensive and anxious. I was still new, and still finding my feet. I was just getting used to life at the Centre, getting to know the people and the processes, when everything changed – and I was terrified.

The face of the CDC

I tried to be as useful as possible. As the days went on, the admin team struggled with the volume of calls they had to make and receive and the extra pressures being placed on them. I decided, as I had no clinics of my own set up at this point, and no clear role within the CDC yet, I would help them out. I set myself up on reception joking that I was now “the face of the CDC”, and quickly learnt how busy and invaluable our amazing admin team is. I checked in the few patients that we were still seeing, greeted staff and visitors, checked temperatures, asked about symptoms, answered phone calls from worried parents and generally tried to stay positive and support the team as best I could.

As things settled down and the weeks went on, I became more confident. I started to develop my own role within the service and begin to build a caseload of children and young people. I discovered that many families were struggling under the harsh but necessary restrictions that lockdown had imposed, and were extremely grateful for help, advice, support and sometimes just someone to talk to. For many of our families, who have children with additional needs, life can be a daily struggle under normal circumstances. Knowing that there was someone at the end of the phone to talk to I think was a great comfort to them and helped contain some of their fears and anxieties.

One Big Team

Despite the uncertainty, our management team worked hard to ensure that the CDC kept running and we supported the Trust as best we could. We set up additional clinics within the Centre to accommodate essential paediatric services. We started running a fast track clinic, a blood clinic and also arranged a process to carry out some safeguarding medicals here at the CDC. The aim was to try and divert children and families from the main hospital site to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. We also hoped that by taking on some of this work, it would enable our colleagues on level 12 to be utilised elsewhere in the hospital, if needed.

Getting to grips with technology

Whilst my experiences of working within the Trust in this trying time have been largely positive, there have been some challenges to overcome. It quickly became apparent that we would have to try as much as possible to use technology to continue to offer services to our children and young people and with this in mind, teams within the CDC began to develop new ways of working. The psychology and therapies departments began utilising “Attend Anywhere,” the continence team worked hard to create a new process of telephone consultations for their families, and multidisciplinary team meetings across other organisations and agencies continued to be attended on virtual platforms. We are now also working on running some of our parenting workshops and support groups virtually, so we can continue to offer support to families with children who have additional needs in a safe way. Here at the CDC we work with some extremely vulnerable children and young people. Being able to continue our work and utilise technology has been vital in protecting these children and supporting families.

Another challenge has been social distancing within the building, which is often extremely difficult or sometimes impossible, despite everyone’s best efforts. Space is undoubtedly an issue here at the CDC. This has meant we have had to have an enormous amount of trust in each other to follow the guidelines and do everything we possibly can to reduce the spread of this virus. Going forward, we are still working on space and staff are having to be ever more flexible in the way that they work. Technology is playing an important role in this, and is something that I believe will continue to be embedded into our practice going forward.

What does the future hold for the CDC?

I feel very honoured to work at the CDC, particularly through this difficult time. I do not envy my colleagues on the frontline, who are dealing with the tragic effects of this terrible virus first hand on a daily basis and I am inspired by their bravery and hard work. For us here at the Centre, the pressures have been very different. We work with extremely vulnerable children and finding ways to ensure that their safety is being maintained, essential therapy is continued, and families are well supported has been challenging.

This is not over. I have no doubt there will be some tough times ahead, but with each day, I feel more able to cope with the uncertainty. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I have struggled with my mental health during this time, and often feel tearful, hopeless and overwhelmed. My colleagues at the CDC have been truly amazing and remained professional and dedicated under incredibly difficult circumstances. Whilst many of us have been unable to see our own families, we’ve done our best to comfort each other, make each other laugh, and help each other through as best we can. I am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me and would like to thank my colleagues at the CDC for getting me through this and making a relatively new and inexperienced member of staff feel like part of the team.

  • Lucy Fleetwood is a Paediatric Nurse Specialist at the Child Development Centre (CDC)

 

My COVID experience: A video diary

In May, our Clinical Nurse Specialist for Headaches Becky Stuckey, featured on the Plymouth episode of The Guardian’s Anywhere But Westminster.

When the COVID pandemic began, Becky offered her services to one of the red zone wards, Braunton. And, over three days, Becky shot over 30 minutes of video content documenting her daily activities as a member of staff working on the front line as she assumed a new role as the key communicator for patients and their families, as well as becoming a mentor to some of her colleagues.

My Experience: Ramadan, COVID and Me

Syeda Ahmed, Stonehouse Ward for blog

My name is Syeda and I’m a Staff Nurse on Stonehouse Ward. Between 23 April and 23 May I fasted for Ramadan. My experience of working for the NHS whilst fasting went really well and I must admit I didn’t really meet many challenges. I worked on the ward in the daytime during Eid, but then I was able to spend the rest of the day at home with my family. Usually I would visit my aunts and uncles and cousins, but this year I had to facetime them to wish them ‘Eid Mubarak’. 

My family has been very supportive whilst I work at the hospital by being there for me and praying for me. My manager and my colleagues have always been supportive by boosting morale on the ward and making sure we have access to any extra support if needed. 

There has been some anxiety with regards to COVID19, but I feel very lucky whilst working on the surgical floor because there are plans to protect both staff and patients from COVID. Also, receiving constant reassurance from the Trust and receiving daily updates about COVID has been very helpful. 

Supporting patients during COVID

I can definitely sympathise with my patients because of the restrictions to visiting, I can imagine it has made them feel lonely in the hospital setting. So it is so important to support your patients as much as you can and I know there have been new initiatives brought in to the Trust like sending cards to patients. Also, sending thank you cards to staff members to support them has been a great initiative.

At first I felt anxious and a little bit nervous (like my colleagues) about the changes in the Trust such as certain departments having to temporarily close, move or combine with other departments. I have made sure to keep myself up-to-date with the COVID policies and of course with the new specialisms and staff members that joined our ward.

Feeling appreciated and the ‘new normal’ after COVID

Myself and my colleagues have really appreciated the Thursday night Clap for Carers, I even find it quite emotional because of the immense love that people are showing for us.

Stay safe and strong everyone. This hardship will pass and we will become stronger as a society and I hope we will all care for each other.

I hope that everyone learns from this and we don’t take the small things for granted.

My COVID experience: Joining the Trust

Hello, my name is Simon Cliff and I’ve been a Patient Services Advisor since March 2020, the start of Covid-19.

My job involves preparing and serving meals and refreshments and some cleaning duties. I worked in the automotive industry previously, but I wanted to work somewhere where I felt could make a difference and have job satisfaction.

Naturally I was concerned about working in the hospital during the pandemic. Two weeks before starting my role I had Covid19 symptoms so my household self-isolated for 14 days and I had to delay my start date.

My concerns were about the availability of required PPE, However during my time working for the Trust I have never been short of PPE, it has always been available.

“all the staff I have worked with have been nothing but friendly, welcoming and always keen to help if needed.”

I’ve found the work to be fast paced and rewarding. Mostly, I really enjoy working with patients, meeting new people and talking to them about their day. As patients are currently not able to have visitors, I like to engage them in conversation when possible. It was nice to talk to a patient about football the other day. It was also the patients’ birthday and we got him a cake, which made him so happy. We shared the cake with the rest of the patients which went down well.

The best part of working in Hotel Services is that the department has a really nice team working for them. All the people I have worked with have been nothing but friendly, welcoming and always keen to help if needed. I get to work on a four day on, three day off rotation, which is is really good for good work/life balance with two small children. I work on various different wards which is great as no two days are the same. I’ve found the clinical staff are all really friendly and happy to help too. I feel like we are all part of one big team.

My top tips for new starters are:
• Get a pen as you will need it
• Be positive and engage with patients.

My coping strategy during this pandemic is:
Having a positive mind-set and get involved in talking to lots of different patients – it’s really rewarding.

My COVID experience: Sadie Hallett

Mental Health Nurse and mother of two, Sadie Hallet from Plymouth has told us about her experience of COVID19:

Back in March, a few days before Mother’s Day, I started getting symptoms. At first I thought it was just a cold but the symptoms progressed. By March 24th I was feeling tired and had aching bones and a cough but I tried to ride it out at home. By March 28th I was getting very short of breath and finding it hard to breathe. Paramedics were called and after a brief assessment told me that I would need to go to hospital. By the time I got out to the ambulance I was gasping for breath and I was blue-lighted up to Derriford Hospital.

Things progressed quickly from there and within 10 minutes I’d had a chest x-ray. A consultant came straight over and told me I was showing all the signs of someone with advanced COVID19. He told me he was concerned about my levels of oxygen and would be making the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) aware of my case. A few hours later, he confirmed that my test for COVID19 had come back positive. By this point breathing was extremely difficult; I knew it had got a hold of me and things were not looking great. I was moved to a COVID ward where I was assessed by the ICU team. They told me that only a small amount of oxygen was getting into my blood and they needed to move me to critical care. I was put on a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to try and get more oxygen into my lungs but at this point I was really struggling to breathe and it felt as if I was drowning.

Unfortunately CPAP didn’t work and I continued to deteriorate. The next stage was being put onto ventilation as I was now suffering from type 1 respiratory failure. At this point I didn’t know if I was going to survive. All I knew was that I was in a critical condition and my fate would lie in the hands of a machine. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to anyone before I was put on a ventilator as it all happened so quickly. After a week the doctors told my family that things were not looking good. My lungs were in a severely critical condition and my temperature had risen. All my family could do was hope and pray I would pull through this.

My partner rang in every morning and every evening for updates. Often there wasn’t much of a change but he always found the nurses friendly and he was able to build up a good rapport with them over time. He would then update all my other family members which took up a lot of his day. My two boys, Leighton who is 12 and Harrison who is 9 found it hard when I was in hospital. We’re very close and I spent nearly four weeks in hospital with no physical contact. I have never been away from them for that long before. They missed mummy cuddles a lot but daddy was so good looking after them.

Things started to turn around as I remained on a ventilator but was stable. On the 12th day I was taken off a ventilator and my family were overjoyed. However, after only a few hours my body just couldn’t cope so back on I went. Thankfully the second attempt of coming off the ventilator was successful and as the tubes were taken out, I was ready to get back to my boys! I knew my journey would be slow as they told me I would need to relearn how to walk, however, I was determined to do it (with the aid of my new walking stick, which I nicknamed Michael Caine).

As I continued to improve I was moved out of ICU and as I was being led out I was given a Guard of Honour. I was so overwhelmed and emotional. All these doctors and nurses who had helped save my life were cheering, clapping and shouting my name! I began physiotherapy back on the COVID ward and after 5 days, I was finally able to leave hospital and go home to my family.

I am really struggling to come to terms and process what happened as it all seemed to happen so quickly. The most difficult thing was trying to figure out what’s real and what wasn’t during the four or five days after coming off the ventilator, as I was suffering from delirium. The delirium I encountered was very scary and it seemed so real. The first day off the ventilator I was convinced I was in a Spanish Convent and thought the Sisters were telling me to pass over (telling me to die). Whilst there I also thought we were under attack from the IRA and I could hear them rioting outside, throwing bricks at the windows. On another occasion I thought I was paralysed and that I was leaving hospital via a secret train station. My family all turned up and threw me a party, however, they faced my wheelchair in front of a wall so I couldn’t see anything going on and then they told me I needed to go back into hospital. There is so much more I experienced due to the delirium but I would probably need to write a book to fit it all in! I’m hoping to start the process of dealing with the delirium I experienced with the help of Dr Rachel Clarke, the ICU Psychologist who I’m due to start sessions with soon.

My most memorable moment from my time in hospital was that there was an ICU nurse, whom I now call my guardian angel, as she seemed to be there throughout all the most difficult times (coming off the ventilator twice). I will never forget her kind and comforting eyes – when everything else around me seemed so scary. She showed me so much compassion and I have since tracked her down thanks to the power of social media to message her personally. Her name is Sophie Deloures and her face will always be with me, she has a special place in my heart.

I would like to urge the public to continue with lockdown measures and social distancing as Covid-19 is such a cruel and invisible illness and it can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. We must help protect the NHS who help save lives like they did with mine.

To all the staff on Penrose ICU, I cannot thank you enough for helping to save my life when COVID-19 wanted to take it from me. The dedication, care and compassion that each and every one of you displayed will stay in my heart forever. You are all heroes and never gave up on me.

My two boys want to say ‘thank you’ for making sure that their mummy got home safely to them.

Sadie Hallett

My COVID experience: Róisín McKeon-Carter

The COVID19 pandemic has rocked the world and certainly has had a significant impact on my life this year. I was scheduled to fly to Hanoi, Vietnam on March 13th to volunteer with a charity, Newborns Vietnam (https://www.newbornsvietnam.org/), to teach neonatal nurses over a two week period organised by Edinburgh Napier University.

In January, the COVID19 crisis in China was being reported daily and the media highlighted that it was spreading in Asia. I did have concerns about flying to Vietnam which I raised with the charity, however was reassured that the virus was not yet in Hanoi. I maintained a ‘watchful wait’. In February and with a very heavy heart I cancelled my offer to volunteer with Newborns Vietnam. I felt sad and very guilty as I knew there was a cohort of wonderful Vietnamese neonatal nurses looking forward to their course; I hope there will be another opportunity for me to volunteer with the charity in the future.

As the UK went into lockdown I planned to upcycle some pieces of furniture in the garage and bought supplies. There was increasing anxiety in the press and I had friends in Italy who were reporting that COVID19 had closed their country. My point here is that I was mainly at home and in my garage painting from March 16th and was not exposed to large groups of people even before lockdown on March 23rd, therefore I have no idea where I contracted the virus. I had felt quite confident that I was being careful, not going to crowded places and scrubbing my hands. I also enjoy great health, no co-morbidities and couldn’t remember the last time I was sick, therefore assumed that I would escape contracting the virus. I was very surprised that on Thursday evening of March 26th I began to feel unwell.

I would like to share my COVID19 virus experience as I had an atypical presentation which may have been dismissed had I not been tested. The date, March 26th, is etched on my memory as it was the first ‘clap for the NHS’ evening and it was also the same day that our PM Boris Johnson developed symptoms of the virus. I got back from my 10,000 step walk around the beautiful Plymouth Hoe but unusually I struggled for the last part, had developed a dull headache and didn’t feel ‘right’. At 8pm I went out on the doorstep and clapped the NHS along with everyone else on our street and felt very proud. The headache was getting worse and I felt a bit shivery, which I put down to the headache, so I took paracetamol and headed to bed. The headache became severe/debilitating overnight and the ‘shivers’ progressed to rigors and I had photosensitivity. We currently live with our son and partner as our house is being renovated. My son Niall is the lead radiographer in the Emergency Department in Derriford Hospital and his partner Maeve is a primary school teacher, both key workers. We all went in to quarantine and I telephoned the Trust absence reporting line and I sought support from my line manager to get tested. I isolated in my bedroom as I was fairly sure that I had the virus.

The COVID19 journey

The headache was severe for three days and the fever continued. I consumed vast amounts of paracetamol and drank lots of fluids. A few days later, the headache improved and temperature was down and I was euphoric as I thought, that’s it, I am over it now. We had a ZOOM get-together with family in London, Sheffield and Ireland and I joined from my bedroom and reassured everyone that I was over it. However, over the next few days I was so lethargic and was exhausted even after having a bath and just slept. The headache would return after any exertion and I developed chest pain but did not have shortness of breath. The fever would come back and I would feel really unwell. I was supported by my manager to get a COVID19 screen and was tested on Day 6 and result reported as positive on day 7. So, the entire household were now in quarantine for 14 days and everyone worked remotely – thank God for ZOOM / Microsoft teams.

As the days went on I had some days when I felt really well and again euphoric and contacted my line manager and colleagues saying I was improving and hoped to be back to work soon. I felt very guilty that I was not on NICU supporting the team during this unpresented time when the entire service was changing. I also sit on the National Neonatal Nurses Association (NNA) executive team and we needed to put out statements and support our members. I was trying to be involved in the various discussion forums / webinars about how COVID19 was affecting the neonatal population and their families nationally, however my energy levels were so low and I could not commit to be involved which made me feel very sad. My husband was making chicken soup (God’s penicillin) in the hope that I would have more energy.

The chest pain got worse, I had a burning sensation right down to the base of my lungs, my hands and feet were white and the headache was worse with any exertion, so I was fairly shut down. I had read that COVID19 affected the type II alveolar cells in the lungs which produce surfactant and keeps the lungs lubricated. I telephoned 111 as I was concerned that I was hypoxic and I was really frightened, doctors on TV were talking about the ‘happy hypoxic, meaning patients were not breathless but were found to have dangerously low oxygen levels… I was not happy! I took deep breaths and lay prone as I had read on Twitter that this would help. Interestingly I had no cough. I hung on the phone to 111 for an hour without an answer, I could imagine how busy they were, anyway I gave up and fell asleep and when I woke I felt better, this virus was playing with me. The media also reported that Boris was admitted to hospital and in ICU; I prayed I would avoid hospital.

I decided that I needed to get back to normal and planned to go out for short walks in the evenings. Instead of getting better my symptoms increased – metallic taste in my mouth, burning feeling in my nostrils (it was like someone had left the oven on) and I felt every cell in my body was affected by COVID19. My walks were very short and I dreaded them as the burning in my chest and headaches were always worse during the walk and I was exhausted afterwards but everyone was saying the virus should be gone by day 7.

Day 12 my courage was leaving me and as a nurse and proud that at 60 I enjoy (usually) great health and rarely bother my GP, however hearing the horror stories in the media of how COVID19 was killing young people I was very concerned that I was not getting better. I telephoned 111 again and after 40 minutes got through, told my tale to the call handler, then to a clinical person who said a doctor would call me back. I didn’t hear anything but I continued with my deep breathing and lying prone and fell asleep again. Again after a night’s sleep I felt better the next day; I was getting clear clues that this virus needed me to rest.

I was desperate to get back to work and having rested a lot and continued some wee walks in the sun with my husband I decided to return to work on day 27 following the start of my symptoms. I worked for 6 hours and had to go home, the pain in my head and chest was very severe. I got my BP and saturations checked at work and the BP was a bit low and Sats 95%, so I went home to bed again. I telephoned my GP weekly and she told me I needed time to get better and to rest. I don’t usually have ‘rest’ in my vocabulary or my diary, so I found that frustrating and the guilt for not being at work and helping out was killing me.

I mentioned that I live with three others and we have discussed at length how I was exposed to the virus and if they had been affected. They did not have any significant symptoms but think they ‘may’ have had a bit of a headache and a bit of an ‘off’ day but all continued to work, however without them being tested (it was not offered routinely when I came down with symptoms) they don’t know if they have had COVID19.

I am at day 42 from start of my symptoms now and back to work on a phased return. The chest burning and headache on exertion continues but I will just have to rest as much as possible and hope that in time it will disappear. I have offered to donate blood for the Convalescent Plasma Clinical Trial and have been told by the NHS Blood and Transplant team that I fit the criteria to donate. I really hope that I get the opportunity to help other people suffering from this horrible virus.

Our habits and routines have all changed and the NHS has been flagged up as an extraordinary service by all in the UK. I have always been proud to be a nurse and I hope that people continue to recognise our worth. COVID19 has opened people’s eyes to amazing work that happens every day.

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My COVID experience – Dr Jamie Read

I don’t think any of us could have imagined that 2020 would play out as it has so far.

jamie read
Our lives have changed in ways that few of us thought possible, and work is unrecognisable for many of us.

Like many staff in the organisation, the added worry about contracting COVID19 has placed an additional pressure into what is already a stressful situation. The concern too about passing the illness on to others has weighed heavily on me.

Part of the difficulty of COVID19 seems to be the spectrum of symptoms that people have. On more than one occasion at work, conversations have happened where people worry that the single cough they had might develop into something more sustained; or that their slight rise in body temperature might be the start of more marked symptoms developing. I want to share my experience of contracting COVID19 in the hope that it will help others, and to also reassure that most people have very mild symptoms that disappear quickly.

I knew that I had looked after a number of patients with COVID19 in the weeks leading up to becoming unwell.

Initially, I just didn’t feel quite right. I developed some generalised body aches and felt more tired than usual. However, I didn’t have a cough and my temperature was normal. Over the following 24 hours I then coughed a couple of times. Recognising this might be the start of something more significant I went home. That evening I developed a more significant body temperature and called the Trust’s absence reporting line to let them know I was unwell.

Over the next few days the most noticeable symptoms were a high fever, persistent cough and generally feeling tired and not myself. I also completely lost my sense of smell and taste. Despite this, I was still able to get up and about, although I was sleeping more than normal. I then had a swab performed on day three, which returned as positive. In some respects it was a relief to know what was going on, although the confirmation was a little scary I must admit.

On about day five I noticed I was feeling a little more breathless than usual, especially on the stairs. This culminated in a trip to Plym at Derriford, where the fantastic staff were very reassuring. Thankfully all checked out OK, but going to be seen was definitely the right decision.

Over the following few days I gradually felt better, but things were very up and down. It often felt like two steps forward and then one back. I was very guilty of feeling better and doing too much and then regretting it a few hours later!

I finally knew I was getting properly better when my appetite returned, along with my sense of smell. It has, however, taken time for me to feel like I’m back to some form of normality.

As healthcare workers, we often think of ourselves as being invulnerable. Sadly, COVID doesn’t discriminate and it’s more important than ever that we take time to look after ourselves and isolate if we have the symptoms. Most of us will have very mild symptoms, but it’s vital we isolate to ensure that we don’t pass it on to others. If we do get more significant symptoms, it’s also important to remember that the NHS is here for us too, and we shouldn’t be afraid of coming forward to be checked over if we’re worried.

I’m now back at work, hoping my experiences will help others and thankful to work with such amazing colleagues who continue to deliver and support the excellent care that the organisation is well known for.

Dr Jamie Read is an Associate Specialist in Geriatric Medicine at the Trust.

My experience being redeployed

My experience being redeployed

Rotational Midwife, Melanie Redding has temporarily left her job in the maternity unit behind to help out in the COVID Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Escalation Team after volunteering to be redeployed. She shares her experience below.

My name is Melanie Redding, although to my colleagues I’m known as Mel-Bell. I joined the Trust in 2006 when I commenced my post as a Registered Nurse in Theatres and the Emergency Department. However, for the last 9 years I have worked as a Rotational Midwife in the Maternity Unit.

On Sunday 5 April I was working my normal shift as a Midwife and on Monday 6 April I commenced my secondment to the Covid-19 ICU Escalation Team. How did this happen I hear you all say, surely they still need midwives during this pandemic? Did you offer or were you made to go? Do you feel safe doing this? What about your family? All these questions were asked to me by colleagues and now by my new colleagues. The truth is, I saw on the UHP Twitter page that they were asking for staff with previous Theatre experience and I couldn’t morally sit there knowing that I possessed these skills and say nothing, so I put my name forward. My Mother in Law also works for the Trust as a registered nurse and was due to retire in March. She has deferred this until July as she felt she could not leave the NHS at the time of a world pandemic which also helped my decision. I was fully supported by my Matrons, Charlotte Wilton and Sheralyn Neasham to be put forward for a secondment for as long as I was needed.

So on Monday morning I went to Pencarrow and Penrose where I was met by the Clinical Education Team to begin my ICU clinical training with other members of staff who were redeploying. Pete Barnfield, Elaine Johnstone, Tracey Watts and Michelle Gould ensured we had a packed day of training. This included donning and doffing of PPE, suctioning intubated and tracheostomy patients, how to prone patients, Arterial lines and CVP lines, how to use pumps that were specific to ICU and the A-E handover (airway, breathing, circulation, disability and exposure checks before shift handovers). Safe to say by the end of the day my head was fully overloaded and all I could think was ‘what have I got myself in for?’ I was lucky enough that last year I had completed my masters module in maternal critical care so had a lot of the theory behind what we were going to be doing, it was just the practical aspect that I had to learn. Bring on the night shifts…

Wednesday night I presented to Pencarrow with the ICU team, my anxiety was high. I was worried that staff would be thinking ‘wow, now I’ve been stuck with a midwife’, however, these fears were all relieved as I was greeted by the team with big smiles and lots of thanks for coming across to help out.

On my first night I was straight into the red zone, extremely well supported and hands on from the beginning. I would like to thank Kim Greenaway and Sarah Holmes from Penrose who have taught me so much but also made me feel part of the team. Their words were: ‘’It’s like you’re ex-ICU and fit straight back in.”

I am now competent in taking arterial blood gases and slowly learning the values and able to give drugs down CVP and PIC lines. I have cared for ventilated patients, patients with tracheostomies and patients who are proned all under the supervision of experienced ICU nurses. I have learnt that no question is a stupid question and the whole team are there to support you. I do have a giggle to myself as the only practical help I needed was catheter care for male patients as you can imagine we don’t get that in midwifery.

This week I was sent to Torrington to work in general ICU where I worked with the lovely ‘H’ and supported by sister Alli. Again, I have learnt so much and was able to get stuck straight in as I’d already learnt to use the Innovian monitors so was beginning to do clinical skills without being prompted.

I’m happy to report that in a time of world pandemic I am able to help as needed, I miss my midwifery colleagues but have been well supported and will return to my position as a midwife when this settles down.

My experience of Covid-19

30 April 2020
One member of staff has shared their experience of having COVID-19 and being tested. Their account is below:

I was really surprised to get the text that said my Covid test was positive. Until that point I honestly felt like I was making a bit of a fuss… it was embarrassing being off work for what was really just a bit of a headache and a croaky voice. But there was the iMessage evidence – now I felt embarrassed AND a bit weird. Who would I tell? Who should I tell? Did I really have to tell anyone?

I had gone home on the Tuesday evening with a sinking feeling; in my last conversation of the day I had needed to clear my throat repeatedly and it wasn’t getting better with sips of water. I wrestled that night and first thing the following morning. I wouldn’t normally take time off for this… but given the current climate I didn’t want to worry anyone. I mean, I didn’t have Covid, obviously! I don’t work in a clinical area, or get up close and personal with patients, where would I have got it from? But you just can’t go around a hospital coughing in the midst of a global pandemic. So I called in to the absence line, (suppressing my ‘mountain out of a molehill’ embarrassed feelings) and was advised to isolate for 7 days; did I want a test? Why not? That would mean my daughter could come home before Easter weekend, we could eat loads of chocolate, and I could get back to work the following week.

So I stayed home. I was tested. I coughed occasionally, answered emails, took paracetamol for a headache and mild sore throat. Ran the Microsoft teams gauntlet several times daily. And then, while I was waiting for the results I thought,

“What are the chances of just having a bit of a cold in the time of Covid?” and a little part of me wondered. But I still felt OK… I wasn’t struggling to breathe, I hadn’t lost my sense of smell, I didn’t have a temperature. (At least I didn’t think I did… I don’t have a thermometer. Turns out they’re quite hard to get hold of these days.)

So when the positive text came, I was a bit taken aback. I phoned my mum, a few close friends and got in touch with the absence line to let them know. Messaged my manager. That night my chest was tight and I couldn’t work out whether it was anxiety, Covid or all in my head! I slept and woke the next morning, had a little check in with myself… I didn’t feel worse. I could hold my breath comfortably, and I wasn’t breathless climbing stairs. The worst thing was telling my daughter on FaceTime; I didn’t want her to be worried, so I did my best to seem nonchalant and super healthy. I don’t think she noticed my efforts, being far more interested in the daily drama of online schooling, and what she would do at Daddy’s if she had to self-isolate there, but I made sure her Dad knew to check her temp and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.

Person preparing dough on a sunny day. Homemade bread, bakery while staying home.Person preparing dough on a sunny day.

In total I had 12 days at home, by myself. I occasionally had a tight chest, sometimes a bit of a headache, my throat was hoarse and a little uncomfortable at times. That’s the thing – everything came and went, so I found it quite handy filling in the Covid symptom tracker app every day; it helped me to feel useful too. These are the things Covid and I did together:

  • Pilates
  • Worked from home
  • Slept (badly sometimes… weird and restless dreams)
  • Baked bread, tarts, cake, a quiche and some disastrous cookies (which I still ate)
  • Had the occasional gin and tonic
  • Listened to music and danced around my kitchen
  • Got properly acquainted with Twitter
  • More online meetings/social successes and disasters
  • Checked in with friends regularly who wanted to make sure I was OK
  • FaceTimed my daughter
  • Painted my kitchen (well, half of it – ran out of paint)
  • Did some garden stuff
  • Worried before I went to sleep
  • Dodged my elderly neighbours while I put the bins out

And then I went back to work. The ‘frog in my throat’ feeling lingered for a bit, and I was tired more easily after a full day, but strangely I also felt a weight had lifted. I am aware a lot of people don’t get off so lightly, and I was relieved to have isolated straight away because at least I knew I had minimised the chances of infecting anyone else. Or at least, that is what I hoped. I suppose I also felt fortunate to be one of the people who categorically knew they had ‘had it’. It’s always better to know, isn’t it?  The time was one of contrasts – being isolated but feeling connected; working, but from home (something I know a lot of people have had to adjust to); feeling fine but wondering if I would get more sick; listening on Thursday nights to clapping but not feeling very worthy or useful or heroic. My brush with Covid has left me a bit tired, and with a better appreciation for just how big the spectrum of symptoms and severity is. I’m just glad to be back, unscathed.

If you would like to share your experience of either having COVID-19 or of working during the time of COVID-19, please contact communications.phnt@nhs.net